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Duncan Ladasach



The preamble to this page is from Martin MacGregor's unpublished 1989 thesis, thereafter I have edited and abbreviated chapter 9 of volume I from Amelia.

The full text of Duncan Laideus Testament is here.

Martin MacGregor thesis, page 59-61
"A poem in Scots titled Duncane Laideus’ Testament is found in the Black Book of Taymouth, apparently composed for Donnchadh Dubh, chief of the Glen Orchy Campbell kindred between 1583 and 1631, and thus at least a generation after the events it purports to narrate. By the time of Donnchadh Dubh, the relationship between the Campbells of Glen Orchy and the MacGregors had altered irretrievably. The author’s preoccupation with moral and religious themes adds a further distorting element."

"The poem recounts the life of Donnchadh Lŕdasach, who belonged to a MacGregor lineage principally associated before 1550 with the forest of Mamlorn and Corrycharmaig in Glen Lochay. Donnchadh’s father was named Pŕdraig, probably the Pŕdraig MacGregor who was apparently tenant of Mamlorn in 1541.

According to the poem Donnchadh Lŕdasach became an enormously influential figure within the clan in the period between the death of James V in 1542 and his own execution in 1552. It was at his instigation that the MacGregor chief or chiefs carried out separate raids against the MacLarens of Balquhidder (27 of whom were killed) and the Robertsons of Struan (whom Donnchadh Lŕdasach averred to be planning an attack on the MacGregors); and an abortive night-attack upon the Campbells of Glen Orchy themselves, which aimed to pave the way for nothing less than the replacement of the latter by the MacGregors as the dominant kindred within Breadalbane. In the words the poet gives to Donnchadh Lŕdasach:
Had we gottin oure will in thir thingis, This cuntray we thocht oure selffis for to gyde."

"1542-49 seems to have been a period of general disturbance in Breadalbane, while independent confirmation exists for the attack on Robertson of Struan, which took place on 22 August 1545. But on other counts the poem’s version of events seems to square less satisfactorily with what other evidence we do possess. A tack of his Rannoch lands granted by Alasdair Menzies of Rannoch to Eoin Ruadh of Glen Strae on 4 October 1548 gave the latter the right to introduce subtenants, “excepting Duncan McGregour Mcphadrik [Donnchadh Lŕdasach] and his barnis alanerlie”. While confirming that Donnchadh Lŕdasach was a recognised malcontent, the tack demonstrates that whatever influence he had acquired within the clan as a whole did not mean that wider society was incapable of drawing a distinction between him and the rest of Clann Griogair."

"The onset upon the MacLarens is placed at Easter, at some point between the death of James V and the attack on the Robertsons. Thus 1543, 1544 or 1545 would all be possibilities. Yet within this period relations between the earl of Argyll - under whose protection the MacLarens were - and Alasdair Ruadh of Glen Strae seem to have been particularly close. Not until 1547, when Alasdair’s successor Eoin Ruadh lost his position as Argyll’s vassal in Glen Ample to the earl’s son Cailean, is there any hint of estrangement between the MacGregor chiefs and the earls of Argyll."

"Also problematic is the onset claimed to have been made upon the Campbells of Glen Orchy. What little evidence we have for relations between the two kindreds in the late 1540s betrays no sign of a major crisis. Eoin Campbell of Glen Orchy witnessed the grant of the tack of the Rannoch lands to Eoin Ruadh of Glen Strae on 4 October 1548, while until his death in 1550 he remained on the closest terms with the MacGregors of Brackley and the family of the dean of Lismore. Again, one wonders what realistic hope the MacGregors could have harboured of achieving pre-eminence within Breadalbane at the expense of the Campbells of Glen Orchy. Despite the distance which had developed between the latter and the earls of Argyll, the earls were hardly likely to view such a process with equanimity, given that it was through the Campbells of Glen Orchy that they themselves exercised influence on Breadalbane. Hence any serious attempt to displace the Campbells of Glen Orchy would surely meet with general Campbell opposition. "

"From the perspective of the Glen Orchy chiefs, the MacGregors’ continued expansion, and the formation of their relationship with Campbell of Cawdor, may have served to underline the MacGregor capacity for independent action. That capacity may have been personified, albeit in extreme terms (remembering his ostracism from the rest of the clan in the tack of 1548), by Donnchadh Lŕdasach, and it could even be that through his influence the potential threat which the MacGregors may now have come to represent to the Glen Orchy chiefs was actually realised. If an attack on the Campbells of Glen Orchy did indeed take place in the late 1540s then it must have been an isolated incident which created no major repercussions prior to the death of Eoin Campbell of Glen Orchy on 5 July 1550; but it might well help to explain what happened immediately thereafter. "



Abridged from Amelia, volume I, chapter 9
Duncan Ladasach, who held the lands of Ardchoill, [1]   seems to have been an object of peculiar aversion to Sir Colin Campbell of Glenurquhay, the 6th Campbell Laird. In the “Black Book of Taymouth” there is a satirical ballad entitled “Duncan Laideus alis Makgregouris Testament,” [2]   the writer of which is not known, but throughout which the gall of the penman in abuse of the warrior, with whom his Clan was at deadly feud, is virulently displayed.
[The author may have been William Bowie, clerk to Black Duncan at the end of the century and author of much of the 'Black Book']

“The Lairds of Glenlyon” [3]   quoting first from the “B.B. of Taymouth” has “Colene sext Laird of Glenurquhay ..... was Laird induring the space of threttie-thre zeiris, in the quhilk tyme he conquesit the few of the kingis landis and Charter-hous landis in Braydalbane, the tackis quhairoff his predecessouris obtenit,”
[Cailean Liath, Grey Colin, was laird of Glenorchy from 1550 to 1583. He was succeeded by his son, Donnchadh dubh na curich, Black Duncan of the cowl, from 1583 to 1631.]

The writer continues :-
“... he had acquired the ‘superioritie of McNab his haill landis.’ Grey Colin gained possession of the greater part of Breadlabane, and with the exception of Struan’s small Barony of Fernay, or Fernan, and a few other small bits of land, was Lord Superior and Bailie of the different Baronies and Lordships of Breadalbane. With the most ample feudal privileges, and though his predecessors had held lands in the district for nearly a century, he was still but a stranger in a strange land, in which his footing was but precarious, and the authority granted by the King far from being satisfactorily acknowledged and obeyed. At that time the feudal charter, until the title of the holder was recognised and confirmed by the so-called vassals, according to the old Celtic custom, that is, by acknowledging him as chief, and granting him the calp [4]   of chieftainship, was little else than a piece of useless parchment.

A landlord in order to have the use and mastery of his possessions, must either conciliate or extirpate the inhabitants. The Laird of Glenurquhay was not in a position to adopt the latter alternative, and he therefore eagerly and skilfully seized upon the former. Breadalbane was at that time inhabited mostly by several old colonies or sections of distant clans, who had come under the auspices of different lord-superiors. The inhabitants of Breadalbane were thus made up from a number of separate kindreds, and except the McNabs, a supposed branch of the ClanGregor, none of them had a chieftain. This gave the Laird of Glenurquhay the opportunity to establishing his own judicial authority. Thus bonds of manrent and calp of Ceann-Cinne followed, from men alive to feelings of gratitude, for having been rescued from oppressors, and confirmed in their rights. Every act of judicial authority added what was both absolutely necessary for the safe exercise of that authority and the gradual vindication of feudal possession, a willing recruit to the standard of the ‘justiciar.’

Today it may sound strange that a proprietor could exercise no privilege of property until mutual kindness produced a 'bond of brotherhood' between him and his vassals. Until a voluntary action confirmed the parchment charter so that the calp of clanship superseded the feudal enfeoffment. No suspicion appears to have crossed the Celtic mind that the parchment right to the soil was sufficient in itself to confer the personal pre-eminence and that 'kindness' in future years would convey no rights whatsoever..

The preceding able description of the then state of matters will best explain the following bonds of “Manrent,” which are to be found in the “Black Book of Taymouth,” Grey Colin and Black Duncan would issue more bonds of manrent than any other Lord in this period.
“The second day of Junii anno domini 1547 zeris at the castell of Glenurquhay Donald McGillekeyr, Fynla McGillekeyr his son, Duncan McGillekeyr and Neill Mcoull VcIllekeyr, Mylcallum McCoull VcIllekeyr, Finlay McAne VcKyndlo, Donald McHewin VcIllekeyr, John oyr McCoull VcIllekeyr for thame and thair successioun. [5]  

“Thai and ilk ane of thaym hes. . . . chosyn of thayr awyn fre motywe. . . . ane honorable man Jhon Cambell of Glenurquhay and his ayris to their cheyf to be thair protector. . . . in all just actionis. . . . as ayne cheyf dois in the contreis of the helandis and sall haif landis of me in assedatioun for the payment afor wderis. . . . and quhen ony of thaym decessis sall leyf to me or my ayris ane cawylpe of kenkynie [6]   as is usit in the contreis aboutis befor thir witnesses &a. &a . . . . And atour thay hayf promest to bryng all the layf of thair kyn that thay may to the sammyn effek. . . . and for the mair securite the pairt remanent witht Jhon Cambell the saydis persones aboun hes subscriuit witht thair awyn handis led at the pen. . . be the viccar of Inchadyn
Donald McGillekeyr with my hand led at the pen.
Fynla McGillekeyr and Duncan his broder our hands led at the pen.
Neill McCoull VcIllekeyr and Malcum his broder do. do.
Fynla McAne VcIndlo do. do.
Donald McHewin VcIllekeyr do. do.
Jhon Oyr McCoull VcIllekeyr siclyk.


And in 1550 another interesting bond [7]   -
“Alexander McPatrick VcCondoqhtty is becumyn of his awin fre will ane. . . . faythtfull seruand to Collyne Cambell of Glenwrquay and his ayris for all the dais . . . . of his lyftyme. . . . incontrar all. . . . personis the authorite beand excepit alanerly baith till ryd and gang on horss and futt in Heland and Lawland upon the said Collynys expenses. And gif it happinnys ony difference betuixt the said Collyne his ayries and McGregour his Cheyff. . . . the said Alexander sail nocht stand with ane of theme bot he sall be ane ewinly man for baith the pairties. Attour the said Alexander hes made. . . the said Collyne and his ayris his. . . . assingnaris to his takys. . . . of ony landis and specially of the ten merkland of Wester Morinche [8]   now occupyit be the said Alexander and his subtennendis and allse hes nominat the said Collyne and. . . . his ayris. . . . his executours and intromittours witht all. . . . his gudis mowible and immowible that he happinnis to hef the tyme of his decess, and that in cace he hef nay barnis lewand at that tyme lauchtfully gottyn. . . . For the quhilk the said Collyne and his ayris sall defend the forsaid Alexander in all his just actionis. . . . the authorite my Lord of Argyle and thair actionis alanerly excepyt. . . .
Acta meridiem presentibus ibidem Alexandro Menzies de Rannocht,
Joanne McEmeweyr
et magistro Willelmo Ramsay notario publico testibus.
10th Julii 1550.”


Notwithstanding this band with Glenurquhay, Alexander McPatrick VcCondoqhuy seems to have acted on his own account in some encounter as shown by the following, found in the “Chartulary” :-
“1550, October 31st. ‘Gregour Dougalsoune’ Pledge for ‘Alexander Oure (dun or sallow) McPatrick McGregor,’ and Nicol MaKintaylzeor for art and part of the slaughter of the late John McDonald Bayne. Not appearing fugitated. - Record of Justiciary.”

In the preface to the “Black Book of Taymouth,” the editor, Cosmo Innes gives an indictment which shows that Duncan Ladasach resented either this slaughter, or Allaster Our’s defection to an adopted Chief.

“On the 26th of November 1551, ‘The Queen’s advocate set forth that Duncan Laudes and Gregour his sone recently, namely opoun Sounday the 22nd day of November instant at sex houris at even under silence of nycht, be way of hamesukin, cam to the hous of Alaster owir, alias McGregoure, servand to Coline Campbell of Glenurquhay of the lands of Moreis and be force tuke him furth of his said hous, and be way of murthure straik him with whingearis and crewellie slew him and spulzeit and tuke fra him his purs, and in it the soume of fourty poundis incontinent thireftir past to the landis of Killing to the hous of ane pure man callit Johnne McBayne Pipare, and thair assegit the said hous and brak the durris thairof and be force tuke the said Johne furth of the samyn, and straik his heid fra his body and crewellie slew him and gaif him divers uther straikis with whingearis in his body.’”

Duncan Ladasach and his son were afterwards outlawed and put to the horn. [9]   Sir Colin Campbell engaged certain persons to pursue the said Duncan; in this case, as in many others, the Laird of Glenurchy having recourse to strangers and not to his own Clan.

“Band to pursue to the deid Duncane Laudosach.

“Be it kend till all men, We James Stewart sone to Walter Stewart of Ballindoran, Alexander Dormond and Malcolme Dormond, yonger to hawe gewin our band of manrent to. . . Colline Campbell of Glenurquhay and his ayris; Duncan Campbell sone and apperand air to Archibald Campbell of Glenlioun and his airis. . . for all the days of our lyvetyme in all actiones. . . and in speciale that we sall dispone owrselffis at our haill power wytht our kyn, freyndis and part takeris to invade and persew to the deid Duncane Laudosach McGregour, Gregour his sone, thair seruandis, part takeris and complices in all bundis and cuntreis quhair euer thai sall happyn to mak resydens be reasoun that thai are our deidlie enemies and our Souerane Ladeis rebellis. And lykwiss salbe redye. . . to serve the. . . saidis Colline and Duncane and thair airis upon thair. . . expenssis baytht in the Heland and Lawland aganes all maner of. . . persones, the Quenis Grace hir authorite, the Earl of Menteytht and the Lord Drummond, allanerlie exceptit. In witness of the quhilk thing because we culd nocht subscrywe our selffis we have for us causit the notare onder wrytin subscrywe the samyn witht our handis tuechand the pen, at the Ile of Loch-Tay the xi day of Marche the zeir of God M.V. fifty ane zeir (1551)
befoir thir witnesses
Allexander Menzies of Rannocht,
Thomas Graham of Calzemuk,
Andro Toscheocht of Monze,
Patrick Campbell,
Johnn Mawire
and Andro Quhit notar publicus.
James Stewart wytht my hand at the pen.
Alexander Dormond wytht my hand led at the pen.
I ta est Andreas Quhit notarius publicus.”


It is impossible to fathom the reasons which led Sir Colin, the following year, to reconcile himself to McGregor.
“Be it kend to all men - Me Colyne Campbell of Glenurquhay grants me to have ressavit Duncane McGregour and Gregour his sone into my menteinance in all thir just actionis in so far as I may of law, and gude conscience. and atour to have forgevine the saidis Duncane and Gregour thair sarvandis complices and part takers the zeil of luf and gude conscience moving me to the samyn, all manner of actionis and faltis thay ony of them hes committit to me providing alwais that the saidis Duncane and Gregour fulfill thair band and manrent maid to me and my airis in all pointis. Forquhilkes grantis me to have given to the saidis Duncane and Gregour thair eschitis of all thair gudis movabill and unmovabill, quhilkis I purchist at my Lord Governouris handis, tha beand for the tyme our sourane Ladeis rebellis and now ressavit to hir heiness peace and my favouris. In witness wherof I hes subscriuit this my letter of meintenance at the Ile of Lochtay the secund day of Maii the year of God Mvc. fifty tua yeris
befor thir witnesses
Alexander Menzies of Rannocht,
Patrick Campbell,
David Tosheocht,
and Alexander Maknab,
Gregour Clerk [10]  
and Andro Quhit notar publico.
COLYN CAMPBELL of Glenurquhay.



This letter of maintenance is the more remarkable because, within a month afterwards, Sir Colin succeeded (by treachery, it is said) in getting both his recently-accepted friends into his power, and slaughtering them. The following tradition is told in the “Lairds of Glenlyon” [11]   as a legend, which may possibly explain Glenurchay’s temporary reconciliation with Duncan Ladasach :

“MacGregor of Dunan, in Rannoch, had committed great herships on the lands of the Campbells in every direction, and particularly on those of Campbell of Glenurchay. The latter did all in his power to take him dead or alive; but McGregor, notwithstanding, not only eluded his enemy, but continued to commit greater depredations. At last Glenurchay offered terms of amity and peace, and proposed a conference at the newly-built Castle of Balloch (Taymouth), with a certain number of friends on both sides, to settle disputes, and ratify the relations of friendship into which the parties were about to enter. Glenurchay did all this deceitfully, thinking thus to capture McGregor and his principal followers when off their guard. McGregor, not suspecting the snare, set off for Balloch at the time proposed, accompanied by the number of men agreed upon. On the top of Drummond, the hill overlooking the castle and meadows of Taymouth, they encountered an old man, who, on bended knees, before a huge, grey stone, appeared to be repeating his orisons in a state of great perturbation. Struck with a thing so unusual, McGregor, drawing near, discovered the old man was repeating the prayers for the dead, with which ever and anon the following sentence mixed : ‘To thee, grey stone, I tell it, but when the black bull's head appears, McGregor’s sword can hardly save the owner’s fated head. Deep the dungeon, sharp, the axe - and short the shrift.’ McGregor saw at once the toils were set for him and that the old man had taken this round-about way of apprising him of the vile conspiracy, for fear of the laird, and in consequence of being sworn to secrecy. He proceeded on his way, however. Glenurchay received him with the most cordial, appearance of kindness. Dinner was laid for them in the great hall of the Castle, each Campbell having a McGregor on his right hand-a circumstance giving the latter a very decided advantage in the melee which followed. The introduction of the black bull's head, and a simultaneous clatter of armed men in an adjoining chamber, put the McGregors into an attitude of defence. Snatching the dagger stuck in the table before him, which a few moments previous he had used in cutting McGregor held its point within an inch of the heart of Glenurchay, while with the other hand he compressed his throat. His men following promptly the example of the leader. . . the McGregors carried off captive the Baron and some of his principal retainers, the armed vassals, at the earnest request of the Baron himself, whose life the least attempt on their part to rescue him would endanger, offering no resistance. McGregor crossed by the boat at Kenmore, dragged his captive to the top of Drummond, and there and then forced Glenurchay to subscribe an ample pardon and remission for all past injuries, and a promise of friendship for the future.”

The legend is characteristic of the times, but although the writer suggests that the hero may have been Duncan Ladasach, it would hardly have been possible at his supposed advanced age.

Mr. MacGregor Stirling in the “Chartulary,” supposes this to have taken place in 1550-60 or 61; but by the following entry in the Obituary of the “Chronical of Fortingal,” continued by the curate, [12]   the date of their deaths is shown clearly to have been in the month of June 1552.

“1552 Interfectio et decapitio Duncani McGregor et filiorum eius vidilicet Gregori et Malcolmi Roy per Colinum Campbell de Glenurquhay et per Duncaniim Roy Campbell de Glenlyon et Allexandrum Menzheis de Rannoch cum suis complicibus quo die Joannes Gour McDuncan VcAllexandrum Kayr fuit interfectus per Alexandrum Menzies de apud . . . . . . in mense Junii vidilicet xvi anno Domini ave M.V. Lij.;

The Black Book has a memorandum in regard to this Sir Colin :-
“He was ane greit justiciar all his time, throcht the quhilk he susteinit thee deidlie feid of the Clangregour ane lang space. and besydis that he causit executt to the death, mony notable lymnaris, he beheidit the Laird of McGregour himself at Kenmoir in presence of the Erle of Atholl the justice clerk and sundrie other nobillmen.”

The Laird of McGregour was Griogair ruadh beheaded in 1570.

It is probable that it was to Duncan Ladasach that the compliment of personal decapitation was paid by Sir Colin out of his “zeil of luf.” As will be noticed later, Duncan Ladasach was undoubtedly much feared and detested by his enemies, and was turbulent and reckless of shedding blood in his quarrels. In that respect he was no worse than his neighbours. Not till the publication of the “Black Book of Taymouth” was his career looked upon as blamable, and those who enjoyed the venom of the scurrilous doggerel about him adopted its views. If Duncan Ladosach openly slew, perhaps, several men, Sir Colin, his executioner, compassed the death of many more.

The following was given by Mr. MacGregor Stirling as a traditional account gathered from “an aged native of Glendochart” [13]   :-

“Glenurchay, having some disputes with Gregor, son and heir of the aged MacGregor, about some marches (it is supposed in reference to the properties of Ardchoille Easter and Wester), proposed ‘a friendly conference for adjusting these. The parties therefore met at the village of Kincauser, on the river Lochy, and in the near neighbourhood of Glenurquhay’s seat, Finlarig; when Sir Colin caused some armed men, whom he had concealed, to rush suddenly upon Gregor. These, having overpowered their single opponent (for he had no attendant), proceeded towards his and his father’s residence, Ardchoille Wester, and getting the old Chief in their power, killed him on the spot. The son was reserved for a more publick and mortifying triumph at Kenmore, whither he was dragged all wounded and bleeding, and there, in the presence of several noblemen, beheaded.”
This version makes the son survive the father. It seems probable however, that the earlier tradition may have been the more correct, the father being reserved for the solemn execution. [14]  







[1] In Glen Dochart.

[3] “The Lairds of Glenlyon,” historical sketches contributed to the Perthshire Advertiser, 1855-58 by Mr. Duncan Campbell, parish schoolmaster of Fortingall, and now editor of the Northern Chronical, Inverness. the sketches have been collected by Sir Donald Currie, M.P., in a volume printed for private circulation, together with another volume of the same nature entitled “The Book of Gather and Fortingall,” and are quoted here by the kind permission of Mr. Campbell.

[4] “An exaction made by a superior, especially by the Head of a Clan, on his tenants and other dependants, for maintenance and protection. This was generally the best horse, ox, or cow the retainer had in his possession” (Jamieson’s “Dictionary”). It seems only to have become due at the decease of the clansman. Calpach or Colpach in Gaelic means a Heifer. - Editor.

[5] These all belong to the Dougall Ciar Family, to be considered later.

[6] “Ceann Cinnidh” - “Head of the Tribe.”

[7] Descendants of Duncan Beg (see Obituary 1477) settled at Moreninch at the south-west end of Loch Tay. Moreninch was the property of Menzies of Weem at that time and till about 1600 when it was bought by Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy.

[8] Allusion is made to this Alexander twenty years later as son of Patrick, son of Duncan; he was probably nephew of the two brothers, Duncan MacGregor in Moreynche and John Dow, son of Duncan, mentioned in entry October 1531.

[9] To put the horn, in Scotch Law is to denounce as a rebel; to outlaw a person for not appearing in the Court to which he is summoned. This is done by a messenger-at-arms, who proceeds to the cross of Edinburgh, and amongst other formalities gives three blasts with a horn, by which the person is understood to be proclaimed rebel to the King for contempt of his authority. - Dr. Ogilvie’s “Imperial Dictionary.”

[10] Slain by Ewin McDuncan VcGregor of Roro, sept. 22, 1552. - Chron. Fort.

[11] The author of this work, Mr. Duncan Campbell, supposes throughout that Duncan Ladosach was acting as tutor for the young Glenstray Chief, but we do not find evidence or mention of Duncan as tutor. It was Gregor McPatrick who, in 1528, got the ward of the lands of Glenstray.

[12] The continuation of the Obituary, from October 1542 to 1576, is not printed with the first part of the “Chronicle of Fortingal,” but is to be found in the “Black Book of Taymouth.”

[13] MS. by Mr. MacGregor Stirling.

[14] In the “Lairds and Lands of Loch Tay Side,” by John Christie, published in 1892, it is stated that Duncan Ladosach and his sons, Gregor and Malcolm Roy, were executed at Finlarig. This is quite impossible, as the place of their deaths is not mentioned in the “Black Book of Taymouth.”

[15] Patrick “Beg” and “Callum Baine” another son, slain in skirmish at Leny, 1626; as also Donald, son of the above Duncan.